Cycling is great for both mind and body – depending on whether you’re going uphill, downhill or on a flat surface, or on smooth or rough terrain, you can exercise different muscle groups at different intensities – all while soaking up the sights and sounds of the world around you. But could your daily commute, or your weekend unwind, be damaging your sexual health? A number of studies and news articles over the years have suggested that there may be a link between cycling and erectile dysfunction (ED).
Does research show a correlation between Cycling and ED?
A study conducted in Norway in 1997 collected data from 160 men who had taken part in a long distance bicycle race. It found that 13% of this sample had developed temporary ED after the race, in some cases lasting longer than a month. (1) In 2001, another study on 40 men found that ED occurred in nearly a fifth of long distance cyclists. (2) In 2004, a review of 62 medical articles summarised that up to a quarter of male cyclists had reported ED. (3) And in 2010, a further review found a ‘significant relationship’ between cycling and ED. (4)
The sample sizes (number of people studied) for many of these studies are small – generally the larger the sample size, the more reliable the results of a study are. But clearly the general message from these studies is worth noting, as the NHS Choices page on ED advises men against cycling for three hours or longer per week. (5)
How can I avoid ED?
The Men’s Health and Cycling UK websites suggest investing in modified bicycle seats. A split bicycle seat has part of the saddle ‘cut out’ to ease pressure on the groin area, especially the pudendal nerve, which runs through the perineum (the area separating the genitals from the anus), which if damaged can lead to ED. Noseless saddles reduce contact between the saddle and the perineum. And saddles incorporating holes and grooves are also available, which are designed to be a better fit to the genital area, reducing pressure. (6, 7)
An article from the prestigious US-based Harvard Medical School also highlights the importance of saddle shape for those concerned about cycling and ED. Wider, softer saddles are preferable to hard, narrow saddles as the weight of the cyclist is spread out over a larger area and the softer seat will put less pressure on the genitals. (8)
Would it be safer if I just stopped cycling altogether?
Absolutely not! Don’t forget, cycling is a superb form of exercise. The better your health and fitness, generally the better your sexual health will be. Just take heed of the above advice and consider supplementing cycling with other forms of exercise if you feel 3 hours a week isn’t enough Even if you do find yourself with ED issues further down the road, there are many treatments available online that can help.
- Andersen KV, Bovim G. Impotence and nerve entrapment in long distance amateur cyclists. Acta neurologica Scandinavica. 1997 Apr;95(4):233-40. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9150814 [accessed 30 August 2018].
- Sommer F et al. Impotence and genital numbness in cyclists. International journal of sports medicine. 2001 Aug;22(6):410-3. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11531032 [accessed 30 August 2018].
- Leibovitch I, Mor Y. The vicious cycling: bicycling related urogenital disorders. European urology. 2005 Mar;47(3):277-86; discussion 286-7. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15716187 [accessed 30 August 2018].
- Sommer F, Goldstein I, Korda JB. Bicycle riding and erectile dysfunction: a review. The journal of sexual medicine. 2010 Jul;7(7):2346-58. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01664.x. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20102446 [accessed 30 August 2018].
- NHS Choices. Erectile dysfunction [cited 30 August 2018]. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/erection-problems-erectile-dysfunction/
- Men’s Health. Is Your Bike Killing Your Boner? [cited 30 August 2018]. Available at: https://www.menshealth.com/health/a19539158/can-bicycles-cause-erectile-dysfunction/
- Cycling UK. Boy stuff: cycling, the prostate and erectile dysfunction [cited 30 August 2018]. Available at: https://www.cyclinguk.org/blog/olivercw/boy-stuff-cycling-prostate-and-erectile-dysfunction
- Harvard Medical School. Can cycling cause erectile dysfunction? [cited 30 August 2018]. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/can-cycling-cause-erectile-dysfunction
Author: Gabby Gallagher MPharm
Medically reviewed by: Superintendent pharmacist Margaret Hudson BSc(Hons)MRPharmS 11/09/18